Rafael Solano: the minefield of political criticism in networks

Rafael Solano: the minefield of political criticism in networks
Intimidation and harassment; Violence and incitement
Content Moderation

After the regional elections in Colombia, Rafael Solano, a content creator with nearly 460,000 followers on TikTok, posted a video in which he gave his opinion on the results. After 24 hours, the platform notified him that the video would no longer be public due to an alleged violation of the bullying and harassment policy.

The video was a critique of political polarization in Colombia. Although the video did not violate the platform's rule - which prohibits publications that seek to harass, humiliate or threaten others - it is possible that an expression Solano used to illustrate his point could have triggered the sanction:

 "Colombia is a country where people shoot themselves in the right foot, spend four years complaining and swearing they will not do it again, and ipso facto shoot themselves in the left foot." 

Infringement notice to @rafaelsolanov's video.

Although Solano immediately appealed the decision, more than a month later he still has not received a response from TikTok. The same piece was posted without inconvenience on Instagram, where it has become the most viewed video on that account with more than 54,000 views. 

Creative constraints on platforms

While receiving a response to his appeal, Solano opted to post another version on TikTok and Instagram in which he moderated his speech. He went from saying "shooting himself in the foot" to "eating a rotten candy", and replaced the mention of "left or right-wing political parties" with "blue and red" colors.

This "family friendly" version, as he calls it, also got him into trouble when he posted it on Instagram. In the video, Solano made a sketch in which he made an analogy between a public servant and a school official "who stole the lunch money" and whom his voters defended with the phrase "I'm going to kick your ass"

A user criticized the hypothetical personage in a comment and Solano, getting into the game, replied with the same expression of the sketch, which Instagram interpreted as a threat. Immediately, the account was suspended for an alleged violation of the policy of violence and incitement. Solano appealed and got his account back five minutes later. 

The community standards of Meta - Instagram's parent company - prohibit statements that promote a real risk of violence that puts people's physical integrity at risk. As in other cases, the lack of context of human moderators or automated systems make it impossible to differentiate between harmless or sarcastic statements from those that actually constitute a threat.

Moderation failures limit users' creative possibilities. For creators like Solano, who are dedicated to political and social criticism, editing their content is an exercise in trial and error. On other occasions, when addressing news topics, such as riots in Bucaramanga or the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the platforms have sanctioned him with content removals or demonetizations, even after having silenced or deleted fragments of his original videos. 

 "It's a real fear that my account will be taken down for something I say. I've learned to skim the line: channel my anger enough so that the algorithm won't take my videos down," he says. Since then, this has been his strategy for backing up his content.

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